Microsoft Updates Remote Desktop Services for Windows Server 2012

Microsoft this week detailed some of the improvements coming to Remote Desktop Services (RDS) with the release of Windows Server 2012.

Klaas Langhout, director of program management on Microsoft's RDS team, shared a list of RDS infrastructure and management improvements and tweaks to Microsoft's RemoteFX technology in a blog post Tuesday. RemoteFX, which supports 3-D graphics applications on remote thin-client devices, debuted last year when Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1

RDS is part of Microsoft's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies, largely superseding Terminal Services. A more precise definition for RDS was provided by Langhout.

"[RDS] is the workload within Windows Server that enables users to connect to virtual desktops, session-based desktops and RemoteApp programs," he wrote in the blog post. "The key value that RDS provides is the ability to centralize and control the applications and data that employees need to perform their job from the variety of devices that the employee uses. This provides 'work anywhere from any device' while ensuring that your control and compliance needs are met."

Since users remotely connect to their Windows virtual desktops using RDS, it would seem better to use the client operating system, such as Windows 7 or Windows 8, for the service rather than Windows Server. However, using the client OS can run afoul of Microsoft's VDI licensing restrictions. Microsoft partner OnLive found out about those restrictions the hard way by trying to run a desktop-as-a-service business using Windows 7.

In any case, Microsoft set out to improve its RDS technologies in Windows Server 2012 after getting feedback from users. Langhout pointed to that feedback, saying that users found issues with RemoteFX's performance over wide area networks. Moreover, the RDS infrastructure was considered too costly and the administration of the service was deemed too complex.

Infrastructure Improvements
Langhout listed six infrastructure improvements to RDS in Windows Server 2012. Here are some highlights.

Perhaps the most interesting improvement is the ability of IT pros to create a "pooled virtual desktop collection," which is a template of the desktop that's to be used by all VDI users in an organization. A whole batch of virtual desktops can be created using the template. An IT pro just has to maintain the patch cycle for the single template, and not for the multiple users.

Microsoft also created a way for the personalization of each virtual desktop to be set. When a user logs on, their personalization settings get "mounted" via a "user profile disk" technology, according to Langhout. This process works even with virtual desktops that were created via a pooled virtual desktop collection, he explained.

Another improvement concerns storage options. RDS inherits the storage options of Windows Server 2012, so users have the option of running VDI with "SMB, SANs, or direct attached local storage," Langhout explained.

With the improved RDS, Microsoft has dropped the requirement of having a physical graphics processing unit in place on the client device to use its RemoteFX technology. RemoteFX can support graphics-intensive apps, such as CAD/CAM design programs, on thin-client devices. Now, the thin client no longer needs a physical GPU to run such applications.

Management Improvements
Window Server 2012's management console, Server Manager, has its own interface for handling RDS tasks. It supports configuration, deployment and management of all "RDS components and servers" and takes advantage of the new management capabilities in Windows Server 2012. 

Microsoft added two wizards that walk IT pros through the server roles that need to be configured to deploy RDS. The "quick start" wizard is for configuring RDS on one server. The "standard deployment" wizard helps with running RDS on multiple servers.

RDS on Windows Server 2012 uses an "active/active" connection broker role service, with no clustering. Microsoft previously required clustering with an "active/passive" model. The new approach removes a potential "single point of failure" and supports "scale out" as workloads increase, according to Langhout.

PowerShell is on hand to support RDS and help automate workflows. Microsoft expects this capability will be built upon by its partners in creating various management tools.

RemoteFX Improvements
Microsoft improved the WAN performance of RemoteFX, adding about 10 improvements. Highlights include "optimized media streaming," "adaptive network autodetect," "single sign-on," "multitouch" and "Metro-style remote desktop."

With regard to multitouch support, RemoteFX on Windows Server 2012 now supports "full remoting of gestures (e.g., pinch and zoom) between the client and host with up to 256 touch points," Langhout explained. Microsoft added a Metro-style remote desktop app to the Windows Store "to provide an immersive touch-first remoting experience," he added.

The optimized media streaming feature in RemoteFX is designed to reduce bandwidth consumption. Adaptive network autodetect frees end users from having to specify the network connection type. Microsoft also streamlined the single sign-on process by reducing the number of certificates involved.

As for when to expect these new RDS capabilities, Microsoft may roll out its Windows Server 2012 product (formerly code-named "Windows Server 8") sometime this fall. However, a "release preview" version, which should include all features, is scheduled for June.

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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